Motorsport: Earnhardt poised to join elite Daytona 500 club

Updated: February 22, 2015

NASCAR Sprint Cup featured betting preview:
Daytona 500, Daytona International Raceway, Daytona Beach, FL, Monday, February 23, 5am

The Christmas-New Year period is off-season for pretty much every major motorsport series on the planet and, bizarrely, the motor racing New Year kicks-off with one of the biggest races in the world. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the Sprint Cup season for drivers, fans, media and even punters. For those not familiar with NASCAR, here’s a primer to help you get acquainted:

• The cars are all virtually the same except for the body shape provided by the three manufacturers – Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. Chevrolet and Ford cars have shared nine of the past 10 editions of the race, with Toyota collecting just a single win in a points race here way back in 2008.

• All except two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races are run on oval tracks that range in size from 0.5-mile toilet bowls like Bristol or 2.25-mile superspeedways such as Daytona. The Daytona 500 is the first race of the season but is also the most prestigious on the 10-month-long schedule.

• Due to the frightening speeds these cars can reach on the two superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega), the cars run with a restrictor plate to limit the power of the cars. It means that even the smaller teams, who may not have the engine package of the sport’s giants, can compete on an even footing here.

• Average lap speed (yes, average) is about 195mp/h. As if that’s not a big enough challenge, driver will have three other cars – front, back and side – barely inches away for all 500 miles. That level of concentration is what really separates NASCAR from other forms circuit-based forms of motorsport.

• The margin of error is so small that the cars regularly touch, setting off what is commonly known as the “Big One”, a spectacular crash involving several cars. It’s pretty much a case of when, not if the “Big One” will happen. Leading contenders can easily find themselves innocent victims in such situations.

In terms of value, the biggest upside to betting on NASCAR is the extremely small handle compared to the major U.S. sports and, as a result, sportsbooks don’t dedicate significant resources when setting lines. There are a handful of opportunities throughout the season for educated bettors to pick off soft lines and find value by getting money down at mispriced numbers. Experienced NASCAR bettors understand the unpredictability of races like the Daytona 500.



Reigning Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt jnr (pictured) looks a leading chance once again in 2015

Theoretically, every car in the 43-car field has a chance to win this race (certainly a greater chance than across the bulk of the season) but it’s not that simple. The pace of the cars can ebb and flow as the fuel level drops and tyres wear (you’ll hear commentators refer to cars being “loose” or “tight”). Despite what you may have learned from Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder, loose is not always best. Cars will also behave differently depending on their spot in the traffic line – some quicker at the front, others quicker when drafting behind another car.

Grid position is pretty much irrelevant, as you’ll see the leading fancies drift to the rear of the pack at numerous points in the race. Five winners have started worse then 31st at the start of the 500. But grid position does reflect the pace of the cars, and the fact that the Hendrick team have three cars at the head of the grid (and two drivers in the market’s top three) shows they’ll be prominent. Jeff Gordon will start on the pole this year, with teammate Jimmie Johnson along side. Keep in mind that the last time a driver won from the pole was in 1999, however, that driver was none other than Gordon.

Most NASCAR stats have little application to betting but we’re fans of NASCAR’s Loop Data Statistics. Loop Data is used to show which driver is historically the best at every track via a driver rating. The top 10 at Daytona are Kyle Busch (injured), Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch (suspended), Dale Earnhardt jnr, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano. Seven of these drivers have won at Daytona – four have won the Daytona 500 and have done so twice (Kenseth, Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt), three have won both races at Daytona (Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt).


Suggested bets

Only three drivers have won back-to-back Daytona 500s but Dale Earnhardt jnr ($9) has to be considered a strong chance of joining that elite group (the last being Sterling Marlin in 1994-95). He has the car speed and form at this track. In terms of consistency across recent seasons, three guys who’ve consistently won races are reigning cup champion Kevin Harvick ($10), Joey Logano ($11) and Brad Keselowski ($12). Our best value for the race is Ricky Stenhouse jr ($41), who has the second-highest average finish at 13 in three Daytona 500 starts but no DNFs.

• Selections are listed in three categories – 1) Suggested (likely bet but yet to be finalised); 2) Confirmed (locked in at the price listed); and 3) Leans (tips, but not recommended bets); all times quoted are Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT); prices with thanks to (except where markets are not available), correct at time of publication. Results/comments on today’s games/races will follow in the next post.

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